12 Fantasy Baseball Free Agents You Should Know
With mock drafts in full swing and actual fantasy drafts on the horizon, I decided to take a look at the list of fringe players who are unlikely to be drafted but who have the potential to see a lot of time on fantasy rosters.
For the purpose of this exercise, I looked at players on Mock Draft Central who were selected in no more than 50 percent of drafts. Of course, Mock Draft Central isn’t without its flaws (I’m not a big fan of its default rankings), so I’m also referencing players’ median draft positions as compiled by a contributor to Fantasy Baseball Cafe, which you can find here.
And no, Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't one of them. I just didn't want to give it away!
Placido Polanco, 3B, PHI
Draft Percentage: 47.9
Polanco finished 2010 as ESPN’s 13th-ranked third baseman despite playing in only 132 games, consistently producing a little bit in every category without wowing anywhere.
Polanco spent the majority of his time batting second last year in front of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, where he posted a .303 average and scored 70 runs in 106 games. Even though Jayson Werth moved to Washington, Polanco still has 90-run potential.
You’d like more pop out of your third baseman, but you could do worse with the occasional spot start.
Travis Wood, SP, CIN
Draft Percentage: 44.8
Wood showed what he can do last year in a strong second-half with the Reds.
When October rolled around, Wood had a 3.51 ERA and an astounding 1.08 WHIP in 102.1 innings with Cincinnati. While his FB percent is still higher than I’d like, his .219 opponents' average and low walk rates give me confidence.
Plus, the Reds offense is very talented, and that could equal a lot of run support.
Travis Snider, OF, TOR
Draft Percentage: 42.7
We already went over our 2011 Travis Snider fantasy projection. Instead of re-stating what I've already stated, here's a little excerpt that drives home the point quite well:
"Last year he smacked 14 homers in only 298 at-bats, good for an AB/HR ratio of 21.3. To put that in perspective, Snider hit home runs at a more frequent rate than Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley.
Snider’s ISO last year was an impressive .208, which was better than Braun, Ramirez and Utley and just .01 less than former home-run king Prince Fielder."
Apparently, if your name is Travis you’re probably a fantasy sleeper…unless your last name is Hafner.
Jhoulys Chacin, SP, COL
Draft Percentage: 41.7
We already went over our 2011 Jhoulys Chacin fantasy projection, too, but here's a little bit of that one:
"Chacin posted a low ERA that’s not too far below his FIP/xFIP, showing he truly earned his success last season. Like with any good sleeper, he has elite strikeout potential, and his opponents' average was low enough that it makes his high walk rate less of an issue. If you’re worried about that thin Colorado air, Chacin’s 1.48 GB:FB ratio helps neutralize that. In fact, from 2005 to 2009 (i.e. before last season in the majors), Chacin posted a 2.38 GB:FB ratio. Oh, and his 10.4 percent IFFB shows he has the ability to confuse batters."
Coors Field is of little concern to a pitcher who can keep the ball down like Chacin. His ADP is on the rise, though, so he might not qualify as free agent fodder in many leagues.
Ryan Raburn, OF/2B, DET
Draft Percentage: 32.3
His name sounds like some futuristic skin ailment but Ryan Raburn is someone who matters now.
The Detroit Tigers’ 30-year-old utility man may finally claim a starting spot on Opening Day. He will duke it out with Brennan Boesch in Spring Training to be the team’s everyday left fielder, but the Vegas odds are heavily in Raburn’s favor.
He will be a welcome addition to your outfield, but he will provide the most value at second base. With great power for a middle infielder and no weakness other than steals, you’ll turn a nice profit from a minimal investment.
Brandon Lyon, CL, HOU
Draft Percentage: 29.2
Lyon has zero competition for the closing gig in Houston and has had an ERA higher than 3.12 just once in the last four seasons.
Since the team at Baseball Professor strongly preaches to never pay for saves, a cheap option like Lyon is just what we like.
Neil Walker, 2B, PIT
Draft Percentage: 28.1
Walker will probably be drafted in more than 28.1 percent of drafts from here on out, especially given his rather high MDP.
He hit .296 with 12 homers in just 110 games as a rookie during 2010, and a 20-homer season could be on the horizon.
Carl Pavano, SP, MIN
Draft Percentage: 26.0
Pavano was the 35th-ranked SP on ESPN in 2010, which put him ahead of guys like Ryan Dempster (133), Dan Haren (85), Matt Garza (161) and Chad Billingsley (115). In case you were wondering, those numbers in parentheses are their MDPs in 2011.
Pavano will likely regress, but he could be a great value.
Julio Borbon, OF, TEX
Draft Percentage: 21.9
Borbon stole fewer bases in 137 games last season (15) than he did in just 46 games in 2009 (19).
David Murphy is the Rangers’ fourth outfielder and will need playing time, which will cut into Borbon’s at-bats. But Michael Young could be out the door in Arlington and both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz are injury risks.
I expect Borbon to improve greatly this year and I think he’ll pile up 35-plus steals.
James McDonald, SP, PIT
Draft Percentage: 21.9
That “N/A” means he wasn’t among the top 350 players drafted according to the MDP rankings I posted.
Frankly, it would be stupid to draft McDonald unless you’re in an NL-only league or you have 30-man rosters (who does that anyway?), but the Dodgers' former top prospect actually had moderate success in Pittsburgh last season. In 64 innings he went 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.58 K/9 and a .242 opponents' average.
Like always, high K/9 guys with a lot of potential are the ones you need to keep an eye on.
J.P. Arencibia, C, TOR
Draft Percentage: 19.8
Will someone explain to me why anyone would draft Rod Barajas, Chris Iannetta, Ivan Rodriguez or A.J. Pierzynski over a high-upside player like Arencibia?
Regardless, it’s happening. Arencibia strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk a whole bunch, but Toronto wants him to be the starter.
Considering his numbers in 104 games at Triple-A last season (.301/32/85), Arencibia is someone I’m keeping a close eye on.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, CIN
Draft Percentage: 13.5
Like Pavano, Arroyo flies in the face of all the high-upside, "forget veterans" logic that I typically espouse, but this is a time where I’ll make an exception.
Arroyo continually posts an ERA just north or south of 4.00, regularly wins 15-plus games and has thrown at least 200 innings in six straight seasons. In short, he’s not good enough to own long-term in most leagues, but he’s almost always available on free agency for the occasional start, and he’s about as reliable as they come.